Lawmakers edge closer to agreement on Pa. jobless system funding

 Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, Pa (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, Pa (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

After a year of fights over how to pay for Pennsylvania’s claims system for jobless workers, lawmakers say they’re getting close to a bipartisan solution.

A standoff last year over financial mismanagement in the unemployment compensation program resulted in nearly 500 layoffs.

Some workers have since been brought back, but not all.

A new plan passed through the House Labor and Industry Committee on Monday would give the unemployment compensation program $115.2 million, which would be gradually phased out over four years.

That’s less than the program was getting before the layoffs, and it’s unclear if it would be enough to rehire any more furloughed workers.

It is also significantly less than Gov. Tom Wolf had asked for, and a lot more than Republican Committee Chair Rep. Rob Kauffman originally proposed.

He said the compromise was necessary.

“We’re coming together — maybe not singing ‘Kumbaya,’ but we’re moving forward in the same direction,” said Kauffman.

Nearly all the Democrats on the committee voted for the bill, though many said they don’t think it truly solves the problem.

“I do question whether four years of funding is enough,” said state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, who was one of the bill’s lead negotiators.

But she added, “it’s right before Thanksgiving, we’re running out of time, and we saw what happened last year when we couldn’t agree on a solution to our unemployment compensation call centers — the whole system broke down.”

Mark Landon, a spokesman for SEIU Local 668, the union that represents many of the laid-off workers, said unemployment compensation call centers can’t operate at full capacity at that funding level.

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are not going to get the service they deserve,” he said. “There are going to be delays in processing again.”

In the past, Wolf has opposed phasing out funding at all.

In a statement, he said he appreciates the committee moving the issue forward, but appeared to want to revisit it later.

House members said they think the Senate is also on board with the proposal.

 

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